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Proposal to Curb Dangerous PFAS Chemicals in WV Water

PFAS chemicals can pollute areas when runoff from factories enters rivers and streams. (Adobe Stock)
PFAS chemicals can pollute areas when runoff from factories enters rivers and streams. (Adobe Stock)
December 27, 2019

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Come next month's 2020 legislative session, West Virginia lawmakers will propose a rare piece of legislation to improve drinking-water standards across the state.

Led by Delegate Evan Hansen of Monongalia, a group of Democrats aims to regulate the levels of PFAS chemicals in water. PFAS are man-made industrial chemicals once common in cookware, food packaging and more.

The plan coincides with the release of "Dark Waters," a film based on the real-life story of DuPont dumping PFAS chemicals in the Parkersburg area for decades, according to local resident and Sierra Club West Virginia chapter board member Eric Engle.

"We haven't seen any state-based or federal action on PFAS contamination all this time," says Engle. "And so finally, it seems like the media and the culture has forced the government to address it and say, 'You know, we've got to do something there.'"

He says the Clean Drinking Water Act for West Virginia is still being drafted, but the bill's language will be "realistic," to meet the limits of cash-strapped municipalities.

Past attempts to strengthen water quality at the Legislature have been met with fierce opposition from industry groups, although polluted tap water has been a problem for many in the state.

Engle says the new proposal would be different than most legislation on water rules. It's less focused on setting limits for pollutants, and more about monitoring which chemicals are where - and knowing who is responsible for them.

"The most direct benefit I see is knowledge of who is producing and using these chemicals in this area, or throughout the state of West Virginia," says Engle, "and regulatory enforcement mechanisms to make sure that these chemicals are not leaked."

Hundreds of everyday products, including nonstick pans, often are made with PFAS, but research has found these chemicals build up in the human body and never break down in the environment. Even small amounts are commonly linked to cancer, thyroid disease and harm to reproductive and immune systems.

Disclosure: Sierra Club, West Virginia Chapter contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Diane Bernard, Public News Service - WV